The strangeness of boarding a plane struck me four weeks ago.
Of course, it’s actually perfectly normal (once you get beyond the obvious weirdness of being in a big metal can in the air). But after four months of being grounded, it sure felt strange to be in such close proximity to so many people. It wasn’t a comfortable feeling.
But the temptation of an actual concert, on a stage with real, live musicians, in front of a visible, breathing (shhh…say it quietly) audience, was too much to resist. Oh yes. And a fee.
I sang very little between March 13 and July 8. Having two school-aged children kept me busy, and anyway, I found it either upsetting or frustrating. I would look at my scores and have no idea where to start. I had no motivation, and I felt as though there was nothing I wanted to sing; and what was the point anyway?
Then came the offer from Pascal Rophé and his Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire of this socially-distanced chamber version of Mahler’s 4th Symphony, originally planned with no audience at all. I hardly dared to believe that I had work. And until we landed in France, I didn’t believe that I would be allowed to travel there and do it.
But arrive I did, and sing I did.
I had imagined it would be incredibly emotional and that I would be moved to tears just to make music with others after so long.
In the event, I was too distracted by such novelties as the etiquette of when and where to wear my mask (concert make-up = smudge); whether I really needed to disinfect my hands at the lift, approximately 3 paces away from the previous disinfection at the entrance to the building (I did. More is more.); and wondering whether the orchestral musicians would mind if I sang to them at first, or whether I should face away.
The funny thing was that it also felt very normal to be on a stage, singing, making music. It’s what I do, it’s where I’m comfortable, and it feels right. I’m one of the lucky ones who’s been given the chance to work again.
My emotions finally got the better of me during the performance, towards the end of the third movement. In fact, they always do – that slow movement just gets me. But as I stood there waiting to sing, and took in the small audience, I was acutely aware of the privilege of being there, and of the beauty and importance of what we do, and I did fight back some tears.
I’m very grateful to Pascal and the ONPL for inviting me (see a link to the performance below), and I hope very much that more and more orchestras and halls can find ways to perform for audiences as much as possible. In the meantime, I look forward to a couple more streamed performances at Wigmore Hall in September and for Oxford Lieder in October, and I have my fingers crossed for our future.
As a final note, I’d like to acknowledge that I am among a small number of musicians that have been lucky enough to pick up a little bit of work.
May I humbly suggest that if you see an unfamiliar name putting a performance out there on social media, perhaps on their own channel, that you give them a few minutes of your time and have a listen?
There is very little work around right now, and I worry that there will be a generation of relative newcomers that will fall by the wayside. We’re all struggling, and competition is fierce.
Ways to help all musicians are by buying/downloading CDs (rather than streaming), looking for ticketed online performances (meaning hopefully that the musicians receive a small fee), and by donating to charities such as Help Musicians UK (https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk).
Watch the performance on YouTube.